The Nature of Positivity

April 24th, 2009

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens� because only then does one feel that all is as it should be� amidst the simple beauty of nature. ” ~ Anne Frank

I love when science proves a really useful theory. The new science of positivity which focuses on mental health instead of mental illness has just confirmed that in order to succeed at anything, we must maintain the ratio of three positive events to one negative event. This is the tipping point for a life that works, that is emotionally satisfying and that allows us to function at our best. The converse is also true, that when the ratio falls below that point, lives often take on a quality of quiet despair. Epidemiological survey data bears this out with only twenty percent of Americans adults flourishing. More than half of us feel like we are just going through the motions in our life.

These stunning statistics are also reflected in our relationships. There is no ‘just getting by’ when it comes to marriage, where many relationships have a positivity ratio of one to one which explains why our collective divorce rate is above fifty percent. We also hold the dubious honor of leaving our relationships faster than any other culture. Interestingly, we also enter into marriages just as quickly which tells you that most of us want to be in long term relationships, we’re just not very good at making them work. Sustaining loving relationships requires a positivity ratio of five to one.

The science of Positivity is not about being happy all the time. The term actually reflects more on how we think and process the events in our life. Expanding our capacity for broad versus narrow thinking and approaching life with curiosity, interest and gratitude is more than enough to redirect and push your life into a flourishing experience. Measuring our capacity for happiness in terms of a perspective on the small day to day moments of life is both realistic and hopeful, because anyone can consciously choose to re-think their lives. The scientific data bears this out as well; socio-economic status does not predict an individual’s capacity for enjoying life.

More important than how much you have, is whether you have access to the natural world, which provides us a sense of proportion in life. Awe, gratitude and appreciation for the wild, the power and the beauty of the world around us is enough for most anyone to shift into a positive frame of mind. Studies have shown that just thirty minutes in nature is enough to tip the scales in most people’s days. Nature wakes us up. Whether it is the heat of the sun or the chill of the rain, we are forced into elements that widen our view and get us out of our head and shake up our habitual thinking patterns.

Einstein said “There are only two ways to live your life. One as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Experiencing your life through nature inspires the ability to not only see the forces of nature as miraculous, but also this brief slice of time that we have to experience it, as equally miraculous. Finding the eyes to actually see the world around you, will give you a perspective on the rest of your day that can only make you happier.

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